MTA hearing is told of 'shameful' racism

December 17, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Nearly 100 Mass Transit Administration employees crowded a hearing room last night to complain about discrimination at the state agency.

The hearing, sponsored by the Legislative Black Caucus, was billed as a fact-finding effort in response to recent complaints legislators have received from MTA workers who say they have been victimized by age, gender or racial bias within the agency.

"There are shameful, disgusting and horrible policies that go on in this agency," said Amy E. Powell, a former MTA employee. "Racism here is endemic."

MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. admitted that his agency was a "troubled" organization with inconsistent personnel policies when he took over 10 months ago, but he denied allegations of discrimination during his tenure.

"In the past, there wasn't a uniformity in [personnel] practices. They dealt with things as they came up. That's not the way we do things now," Mr. Agro told the panel chaired by Del. Clarence Davis, a Baltimore Democrat.

More than a dozen people offered examples of what they said have been discriminatory practices at the MTA. One retiree told the panel that "when you work at the MTA, you don't need to go to South Africa."

But in a written presentation to the caucus, Mr. Agro pointed out that more minorities than non-minorities have been hired, promoted and upgraded during his tenure at the MTA. Of the six senior managers he has appointed, three are minorities.

"The MTA is commited to providing career opportunities to qualified African-American candidates in every and all areas of my organization," Mr. Agro stated.

Allegations of racial bias are a particularly sensitive issue for the MTA, which has the most minority employees of any Maryland Department of Transportation agency and claims its greatest ridership in predominantly black communities.

About two-thirds of the MTA's staff are minority, but 70 percent of its managers are not.

In a letter to the caucus last month, Ms. Powell pointed out that, during the past six months, eight black MTA employees have been either fired, harassed, disciplined or downgraded and their positions given to whites.

MTA officials denied the allegation. They pointed out that five black employees who were recently let go were simply contractual workers whose contracts were not renewed when federal funding expired.

"This [Ms. Powell's letter] is factually inaccurate and blatantly untrue," Mr. Agro said before the hearing.

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